TORONTO – The Calgary Flames would take another game exactly like this one and feel good about their chances.
Teams say that sort of thing all the time, but the words rung true here.
Glen Gulutzan had suggested his players struggle under the bright lights and then saw them fire 48 shots on Frederik Andersen. He’d wondered about their resiliency in the face of momentum swings, but had to love the pushback after the Toronto Maple Leafs tied the game on a member’s kick off the corner stanchion.
The Flames did everything except find a shootout winner on Wednesday night and weren’t afforded much time to regroup with another game directly on tap in Montreal.
“We’ve just got to keep working, right?” said Gulutzan, noticeably upbeat after a 2-1 shootout loss to Toronto.
“We did exactly what we wanted to do,” said Flames captain Mark Giordano. “We played with energy, put a lot of pucks to the net. We’re happy with that. We play like that we’re going to get the two points more often than not.”
Here we are just one-third of the way into the season and Calgary is looking to stabilize itself following a tumultuous week. They didn’t have much push in losing 4-1 to the Leafs last Tuesday at the Saddledome. Then they beat Arizona 3-0, lost 7-5 to Edmonton and dropped a 5-2 result to Philadelphia on Monday.
That resulted in a lot of skating Tuesday before flying east on this mini-trip. There was some soul-searching, too.
“It hasn’t been a warm and fuzzy message,” Gulutzan said.
It says something about how competitive the NHL is these days that there’s already a sense of urgency building. The Flames are a good team, or should be one. They’re 14-12-2 and just outside of a wild-card playoff spot.
They were hailed for having one of the league’s best blue-lines after general manager Brad Treliving acquired Travis Hamonic at the draft, but so far it hasn’t translated into results. The Flames are ranked 22nd so far with 3.17 goals against.
“We’ve got to be way better, our ‘D,”’ said Giordano. “We have to drive the team, to be honest. We have to get pucks into our forwards’ hands, drive play, jump in, all that sort of stuff. I think we can be a lot better.”
There were some positives to be found from that group at Air Canada Centre.
For starters, the captain opened the scoring on a first-period power play – looking towards a collection of friends and family in the stands after floating a shot past Andersen. He’d scored his first career NHL goal in his hometown on Oct. 14, 2006 and hadn’t had another one in this building since.
As a team, the Flames did a pretty good job of locking things down against the ever-dangerous Leafs.
The T.J. Brodie-Hamonic pairing was the only one to struggle possession-wise and the only goal Toronto scored came off a crazy carom. Morgan Rielly beat Mike Smith late in the second period after the Flames goalie was sent diving towards his crease on an otherwise harmless play.
“Lately, if you look at our games, we haven’t been getting any bounces,” said Gulutzan. “Even the goal here late in the second period – just a dump-in where we’re in good spots, it comes off a stanchion, comes to the front of the net and makes our guys … we’re all scrambling in spots to get it and they throw one from the wall to get it in.”
The Flames responded with a strong push, building an 11-1 shots advantage to start the third period and nearly taking the lead on a Sean Monahan rebound. He got the puck across the line, but the Toronto net had been knocked off its moorings by Andersen beforehand.
Both teams had great chances to end the game in regulation – Patrick Marleau’s one-timer rang off the right post before Michael Frolik was denied from the bottom of the circle in the final seconds – and Johnny Gaudreau had several good looks for Calgary during a wild 3-on-3 overtime.
Basically, Toronto stole the second point by scoring twice in the shootout.
“It’s frustrating at times,” said Gaudreau. “I think we could have easily won that game. Had a ton of chances, had some good looks in the third, even in overtime I think we kind of controlled the play most of overtime.
“Shootout? I had the game on my stick there, mishandled it, that’s the way it goes sometimes.”
There was a lot to like for the visitors other than the result.
That’s hockey, sometimes.